The story of the Cheops pyramid picture
Chris Loudon of the WA Genealogical Society with the4 pyramid picture. Picture: Dione Davidson/The West Australian

They are a group of Diggers of whom WA was justifiably proud, and still is.

They were among the first in the country to answer the call to arms in World War I in August 1914, and by January 1915 they found themselves a world away from home.

The men of the original WA-raised 11th Battalion were camped in Egypt where they trained before the landing at Gallipoli on April 25.

The diary of one of the men, Capt. Charles A. Barnes, noted that: “After church this morning, the whole Battalion was marched up to the Pyramid (Old Cheops) and we had a photo took or at least several of them.”

The date was January 10, 1915.

Another reference to the photograph being taken can be found in an autobiographical novel written after the war by 11th Battalion soldier Ferdinand George Medcalf.

The book, which is part of the collection of his papers held by the Battye Library, reads in part:

“On the following Sunday after church parade, the 11th Battalion was marched to Cheop’s pyramid; and the men instructed to scatter themselves out on its steps ready to be photographed.



“An excellent picture was the result, it being a unique method of keeping a copy of the original Battalion.

“After lunch, the photograph craze having taken hold of our section, they determined to perpetuate their memories by getting themselves photographed in front of the sphinx.

A copy of the original picture

“Joyce in his artistic way arranged the group before the sphinx; and a very fine picture was the result.”

Among those in the sphinx photo is the writer himself.

The State Library of WA holds two copies of the Cheops pyramid photo, one of which was donated by Medcalf’s daughter, former State archivist, Margaret Medcalf.

To look closely at the image is to see not just soldiers, but a group of men whose personalities shone through, including many with the cheeky grins which became synonymous with the original Anzacs’ approach to their task.

There is the occasional pipe smoker, and as was the fashion of the day, 216 moustaches are on display among the 703 men.

The WA Genealogical Society, which is running a web-based project to identify the men in the pyramid photograph, has also counted three drums and seven bugles, 16 bayonets drawn, some upright and some crossed and 20 officer’s swords on show.

WAGS web project master, Chris Loudon, said many men had devised methods of identifying themselves by holding reflective items including paper tucked into belts, handkerchiefs, some tucked into breast pockets, and tin or metal held or attached to caps and hats.

A number had their identification tags showing.

It might also have been a cold day, because a number of the Diggers wore t-shirts which were visible at the neck underneath their uniforms.

A former pictorial technician at the State Library, Paul Malone, went with The Weekend West and WAGS to examine one of the images held by the State Library.

Mr Malone said it was a print off a glass negative.

The photo had been taken using a good quality lens and was likely to have been taken by a professional photographer.

He said there was little sign of shadows so it was likely to have been taken around midday or on an overcast day.

And while much about the image remains unknown, two things are certain.

One is that many of the strapping young men who had gone off to destinations unknown to do their duty would never again see their home or family.

And secondly, they will never be forgotten.

The West Australian

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